Harley Merlin And The Secret Coven by Bella Forrest, now you can read online.
I froze, my back against the window, my whole body shivering as the beast in front of me shuddered with delight.
Another second and I would become its dinner.
Something inside me roared like thunder, unwilling to give in yet. The air around me thickened—I could feel it tickling my fingertips, beckoning me to wield it. I’d done it before, though not with the strength I would need to disable a fiend as savage as this.
But I had to try. There was no other choice.
I summoned all the energy I could muster, and, for the first time ever, I sensed the particles of Chaos flowing through me. My mind went into overdrive, and I thrust my hands out. The winds outside listened, rumbling and whistling as they crashed through the window.
I ducked as broken glass exploded everywhere. Shards cut through the beast’s face and eyes, and it hissed from the pain.
With no other route to safety, I embraced the winds and leapt onto the windowsill. My breath hitched as I looked down at the sheer drop, and then I closed my eyes, abandoning myself to the air.
My eyes wandered around the poker table.
The dealer, a young man in his early twenties, had been fitted into a crisp white shirt and black silk waistcoat, his brown hair slicked back with too much gel. His dexterity as he shuffled the deck made me stare, before I went on to check the players.
Two women and three men. Three of them had skipped on the Gamblers Anonymous meetings—I could tell from their frayed nerves and shoulder-crushing guilt. It was written all over their faces. The other two, a man in his late twenties and a cute brunette who didn’t look a day older than twenty-three, struck me as the coolest cucumbers I’d seen all evening.
This was a steady gig I’d gotten my hands on, so I had to do a good job. Three months in, and I’d already gotten fifteen people banned for cheating and counting cards. It wasn’t an easy profession, though—for most people, anyway. It required a lot of psychology and the study of body language, along with excellent knowledge of the game itself. You had higher chances of success if you were a former cheater, preferably with some Vegas experience. But I had very little experience at all.
Then again, I wasn’t “most people.”
After betting, it was time for the “flop.” The dealer displayed three cards in the middle of the dark red velvet table—seven of clubs, queen of diamonds, and a five of spades—while we checked our “hole” hands again. I had nothing to use, but I bet anyway. The casino supplied my betting cash, so it didn’t matter if I lost. My prize came in the form of a generous percentage of the cheaters’ relinquished winnings if I caught colluders at the table, along with my hourly rate.
Texas Hold’em was a favorite game choice for collusion, and with the amount of money involved in tonight’s game, I knew I’d get some bold players this evening.
My instincts were pointing me to the “cucumber” couple. The other three were already sweating. One was clearly a veteran gambler, at least compared to the rest. With graying hair, salt-and-pepper stubble, and sweat stains on his peach-colored shirt, the man was nervously clicking two blue chips between his fingers as he stared at the three cards in view. He was going to fold soon.
I could feel it in my bones. There was nothing he could do with what he had in his hand, and what was on the table. With five crappy cards combined, and just two more to go with the “turn” and the “river,” he wasn’t feeling this round, at all. Sure, he had the gambling bug, but he’d probably lost enough over the years to know when to pick his battles.
He scoffed, and folded.
Hah, called it! Who’s a smart girl? You’re a smart girl, I mentally congratulated myself while my gaze wandered around the table. I was a smart girl. It was the only thing I’d learned from my father.
I flipped open my black satin clutch—which I’d matched with my dress—pretending to look for a tissue. I kept a small note in my card wallet. I pulled it out and examined it for a moment.
Harley, I am so sorry for doing this to you, but there is no other way. Stay safe. Stay smart. I love you. Dad.
That note was the only thing my parents had left me with, before dropping me off at the orphanage when I was three. I was bounced around from one foster home to another after that. It was rarely a pretty picture, and my father’s advice somehow helped me retain my sanity. Even now, as I glided into adulthood, I kept looking at that note for guidance, whenever a part of me wavered. As a foster kid, I always had to “stay safe” and “stay smart,” though the two rarely went hand in hand.
When the turn was dealt, I glanced around the poker table again.
Each of these people had their stories to tell. They had first names and last names, parents and grandparents, uncles and distant cousins, social security numbers and student loans. In my twisted view of the world, they existed, while I was just a visitor of sorts. Always on the outside, looking in.